It's every Web surfer's pet peeve: those annoying ads that pop up claiming your computer has a virus. They block you from working in the browser and are impossible to get rid of short of shutting down the program. They are the types of pop-ups associated with lower-quality Web sites, which is why it's so surprising that The New York Times (NYT) is warning readers that its site has been hijacked by such ads -- unauthorized, of course.

Hackers broke into the newspaper's banner feed over the weekend, causing some readers of the Gray Lady's site to see ads telling them their systems were infected, according to online tech publication The Register.
This type of advertisement has become so prevalent that there's a term for it: malvertising. Sometimes a criminal method of installing software through Internet advertising, it's also the method used for convincing people they need to buy or download unneeded software. In The New York Times' case, the ads were trying to trick readers to install software on their computers, The Wall Street Journal says.

The newspaper became aware of the problem ads on Saturday evening, when it started, according to an email from spokeswoman Diane McNulty. She says the culprit approached the newspaper as a national advertiser and had provided apparently legitimate ads for a week. Then the ad was switched to the virus alert malvertisement over the weekend, according to the newspaper's account. The New York Times suspended third-party ads on the Website to address the problem, and has posted advice for readers on its personal technology blog.

The risk for The New York Times is that readers may associate the site with lower quality or become concerned about security when they access the newspaper's online version. And those aren't brand images with which the paper of record would want to be associated.

"It might give some people second thoughts" and cause some concern about security, notes Ed Atorino, an analyst at the Benchmark Company.

The New York Times may be a victim of its own popularity: Malware hackers are going after popular news stories to expose the greatest number of people, according to InformationWeek. That's something evidenced by one reader who wrote to The Wall Street Journal, noting that he saw the pop-up ad when he tried to read the newspaper's article on the violations of the Clean Water Act.

So what to do if such an malvertisement clogs up your computer? The New York Times is advising readers to shut down and restart their browsers. And, of course, try not to click on the ad.

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